ST. LOUIS -- The first half of Mike Matheny's first year as Cardinals manager is just about done, and on Sunday, he reflected on how his club has performed and where it's heading after the All-Star break.
The Cards enter Sunday 2 1/2 games behind the National League Central-leading Pirates and a game and a half behind Cincinnati. While it's clearly not where Matheny would like to be, it's nothing to worry about either.
"I think every team holds their own destiny, and that's exactly where we are," Matheny said. "You can see pieces coming together as well as every other team. I think we're moving forward. I think some of the bullpen guys are starting to really develop into their roles and get some confidence going. Offense hasn't been a question and our starting pitching has been very consistent, so those are the components and they're all there. It's just a matter of us putting them together and doing it timely or not."
Hitting has not been an issue for Matheny's club. St. Louis is second in the Majors in average (.275) and hits (813), and third in runs (421). When exactly the Cardinals score those runs has proven a bit problematic.
St. Louis is 9-14 in one-run games this season, and 4-7 in two-run games. Statistically, one can assume that at some point, those tight decisions will start to go in the Cardinals' favor.
"We've had so many close games that we easily could have and should have won, and didn't. To me, those are going to stack up. I just think so," Matheny said. "We all have to do our part to make those things happen. It's not just going to happen automatically. Our record could be so different right now, and there's not a lot of teams that could say that."
The injury bug has not been kind to St. Louis this season, as a handful of key players are still on the mend or have missed significant time this season. Losing Chris Carpenter for the season is a clear, devastating blow. But the Cardinals are also waiting on Lance Berkman to return from knee surgery, and they were without Allen Craig and Jon Jay for a good portion of the first half.
Considering that key contributors are healthy and others will be back in the lineup shortly, Matheny sees good things in the future. He said his team has learned from adversity faced early on, and he expects good things to result from those experiences.
"What is that thing we're missing? Or do we not have it? I don't think that's the case. I just think it hasn't worked out that way," Matheny said. "We've had some growing pains. You have to grow as a team every year, regardless of people coming back or how many people are missing. You've still got to come together, and I think those are part of the pains we've gone through this year. To me, those are things that we've learned from and grown from, and now we're moving forward."
Schumaker garners another start at second
ST. LOUIS -- Skip Schumaker started at second base for the second straight game on Sunday, making his 14th start at second this season. While the 32-year-old veteran has seen his playing time decrease a bit this season, Schumaker is understanding of the situation.
"There's some guys that can play there," Schumaker said. "And I knew going into the season that that was the case. There's some younger guys that they're going to want to play.
"When I'm in there, great. When I'm not, I'll be ready in the later innings."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has been shuffling around the depth chart at second all season. Daniel Descalso started there 36 times, while Tyler Greene has been penciled in 35 times. Matheny has also recently experimented with trying out Matt Carpenter at second to get him some at-bats, starting him there on Thursday for the first time in Carpenter's professional career.
Schumaker delivered a key RBI single in the fourth inning of a 3-2 win over Miami on Saturday, his first RBI since June 22. He's batting .301 in 44 games this season, while Greene is hitting .228 and Descalso .223.
"Skip puts together good at-bats. He's a great teammate, a great player," Matheny said. "With Skip, you know what you're going to get every day. And he's done a nice job and certainly deserves to be in there."
When asked on Saturday if Schumaker could begin to see more playing time, Matheny didn't give any inclination to sticking with one guy at second any time soon.
"It's a crazy mix what we've got going on," Matheny said. "We just have to keep making those strides forward to do what we can each night to put the best eight out there on the field defensively and offensively."
Browning making most of callup with Cardinals
ST. LOUIS -- Barret Browning has made just three appearances in the big leagues this season. But so far, so good.
The 27-year-old left-hander's contract was purchased from Triple-A Memphis on June 30, and he made his debut the same day with two perfect innings against the Pirates. Browning hasn't allowed a hit or a walk in four innings of relief, while striking out three.
"I knew that I belonged here in my heart before I even got called up," Browning said on Thursday after setting down the Rockies in order in the seventh. "I knew I belonged here, and if I didn't, I wouldn't have stayed with the game. Every time you put up a zero, you do your job, you do what your team needs you to do and contribute to wins like I did tonight, that's a great feeling."
Browning was named a Triple-A All-Star this season, posting a 1.89 ERA in 30 games this season. He ranked tied for fifth in the Pacific Coast League with seven holds. Browning struggled with Triple-A Salt Lake last season, posting a 4.61 ERA in 50 games for the Angels affiliate, and he had a 6.54 ERA in 26 games with Salt Lake in 2010.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he'd never seen Browning throw before his Major League debut, and credits the coaching staff in Memphis for recommending Browning to help out the St. Louis bullpen.
"You can take his stats from before and throw them away as far as I'm concerned, because right now, he's making good pitches," Matheny said.
Prior to this past offseason, Browning primarily threw a four-seam fastball while mixing in a slider and struggling to find consistency with his changeup. But during the winter, he experimented with different grips and developed a two-seamer he likes to throw down in the zone, and he's more confident in his changeup.
As for his mentality and approach on the mound, Browning said he tries to be aggressive in each at-bat.
"I'm looking to throw strikes as early and as often as possible," he said. "I feel like if I do that, I keep the hitters more on the defensive than I am, because I've got guys behind me that can make those plays if I let them put the ball in play. I pitch to missed barrels. I pitch to contact. I try to pitch to the bottom of the zone inside the strike zone, and keep them off balance."
Browning said he's been considered a lefty specialist for the majority of his career, but Matheny would like to see more of Browning before making his own decision on the pitcher's potential role.
Despite having limited experience at the big league level, Browning is confident and hasn't let the pressure of playing at the highest level get to him.
"The mound distance is the same, the catcher sitting in the same spot and the plate's not moving," he said. "So there's no reason for me to change anything. As long as I'm attacking the strike zone, staying at the bottom at the strike zone, I hope to continue the success that I've had so far."
David Freese was scratched from the Cardinals' lineup on Sunday about 25 minutes before gametime. The Cards announced that Freese has a contusion in his left leg suffered on a Carlos Zambrano pitch that hit the third baseman in the fifth inning of Saturday's 3-2 win. Matt Carpenter started at third and batted sixth in Freese's absence.
Matheny confirmed on Sunday that Lance Berkman will begin a Minor League rehab assignment after the All-Star break. Where and when is yet to be determined. Matheny said the club didn't consider bringing Berkman back into the lineup without a rehab assignment.
"I think everybody knows that when you go this long, you need to see live pitching, you need to see live baseball," Matheny said.
Mike Still is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.